A student’s guide to choosing the right college overseas

college students

Going to college is a rather daunting process for students, let alone going to college in a foreign land. There are various factors to consider when making your decisions, and with the vast options at your disposal, it is not hard to feel overwhelmed. The Red Pen is an education consulting service for applicants and their families around the world, founded by Kavita Mehta and Kimberley Dixit. They realised applicants would benefit from holistic guidance based on students’ specific background and goals. The name ‘The Red Pen’ symbolizes their approach to educational consulting, which is to guide applicants and help them express their voice with confidence. The applicants under their wing have been admitted to top-notch institutions around the world, and who better to learn from than the applicants themselves. When looking at colleges, they all had a common expectation from the colleges – flexibility.

Mahesh, who is a Stanford University graduate advocates that getting into college is only the beginning. “You think once you’re in that you’re settled for life, but you’ve only just paved the way”, he says, adding that it’s not important where you go to college but what you make of the experience. Founder Kavita also concurs. “You can be in the best school, but if you don’t take advantage of it, it doesn’t matter”, she says.

What really did gravitate him towards Stanford is the flexibility of the US system of education.  “You need to have a diverse skill set to get ahead in the industry. Things are going to be intertwined and you won’t be able to succeed with just one skill set”, says Mahesh. And thanks to the American education system, he was able to take classes in Philosophy, Music and Art.

Like Mahesh, Prithviraj too desired to get into a college that was more flexible – and he suggests looking for that flexibility when choosing your college. He says, “Think about what you want from your college and why you are going there. Identify whether you are a social person, if you love research, or if you want to explore your options and change your major later on.” Prithviraj got accepted to Purdue University and The University of Washington. For him, Purdue was an obvious choice because it gave him different options to explore, before zeroing in on what he really liked.

The same applied to Parth, who has previously studied at Jamnabhai Narsee School, PACE and now is a student at Harvard University. PACE allowed him to focus on more than just what he intended to do. During his time there, he worked on a couple of other projects as well, and looked for this same flexibility when applying to colleges.

On the flip side, Mallik was confident he wanted to specialise in Economics when he looked at colleges in the US and the UK. He eventually chose to study at Cambridge University. “What I like about the UK is that although you’re specialising in one subject, you can tap into other closely related subjects like Maths and Statistics.”

Students have been warming up to the idea of a gap year, which come in two kinds. You either take the traditional gap year and then apply to college or you take a ‘bridge year’, where you get accepted into college and defer your admission for a year. This kind of flexibility is apt for students who want to take time off from academics and engage in a new hobby, travel, take a few other classes or more, and can prove to be liberating for the student because it builds a lot of maturity – which is exactly what Avanti did.

She deferred her admission to Harvard University for one year to pursue her passion, singing. She worked with a production company and released her first single. This bridge year gave her a perspective on what she really wanted to do.

Vivek opted for a traditional gap year and applied to colleges within that gap year. He utilised his time working with a government agency, which peaked his interest in economics. He followed it up with a couple of internships at reputed organisations, and out of the eight colleges he applied to, he chose to go to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). But after a couple of theory classes there, his interest in Economics died down and he found himself inching towards technology. “I took a few computer science classes and did a minor too. I even went for a coding boot-camp in New York, because I realised that I was passionate about technology but did not know how to build anything” he said. After graduation, he headed to New York to work for a start-up and now works for a hedge fund.

The admission process is equally daunting for parents, and finding a college that you’re comfortable sending your child to is not easy. But it is important to be very involved with what your child does. The students advise to consider your child’s interests and to give them enough of a push but let the child be involved themselves too. Allow your child the freedom to explore what excites them because it is important that their true passion reflects in their application, which will definitely lead to a successful admission process.